Health Beat: Killing knee pain with stem cells

Killing Knee Pain

CHICAGO - No matter what your age, when cartilage begins to wear out around our knees or becomes damaged, it can limit our movement and cause serious pain. Now, a new technique using stem cells from donor umbilical cords, typically discarded after birth, could help young patients rebuild cartilage and reduce pain.

Chasing after his son Jimmy hasn't been easy for Jim Hackett.

"I figured two years down the road, I want to be able to run around with him and play ball with him, but at the rate I was going, that wasn't going to happen," Hackett said.

Years working as a police officer have taken a toll on his knees.

"It just gets to the point where your knee just says enough and you end up with cartilage problems," Hackett said.

Dr. Brian Cole is using stem cells to repair Hackett's cartilage.

"Several small holes are made into the bone to make it bleed intentionally and in that blood are our own body's stem cells that lay down fibrocartilage or scar cartilage," said Cole, professor, department of orthopedics, section head, Rush Cartilage Restoration Center.

Then stem cells from umbilical cord blood are combined with hyaluronic acid, a building block of cartilage.

"The hope is through acting as a regulator, in that area, they can actually improve the healing response," Cole said.

Hackett is back on his feet.

"My knees are great. I'm able to kneel now and before, prior to surgery, I wasn't able to do that," he explained.

The therapy's been approved in South Korea and preliminary results here are promising. The best patients for the procedure are under the age of 45 with small localized areas of cartilage damage. It's not meant for older patients with arthritis or in place of a knee replacement.

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